Ariel (UK satellites)


Ariel-4. Image credit: NASA.

Ariel was a series of six British satellites launched by NASA. The first four were devoted to studying the ionosphere, the remaining two to X-ray astronomy and cosmic-ray studies. Ariel 1 was the first international satellite. It was named in February 1962 for the spirit of the air who was released by Prospero in Shakespeare's play The Tempest. The name "Ariel" – a traditional one in British aeronautics – was chosen by the UK Ministry of Science and endorsed by NASA.


Ariel 1 (UK-1 before orbit) was built by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and instrumented with six British experiments to make integrated measurements in the ionosphere. Ariel 2, contained three UK-built experiments and was placed in orbit two years later. Ariel 3, designed and built in the United Kingdom, carried five experiments. The UK-built Ariel 4 carried four UK and one US experiment to investigate plasma, charged particles, and electromagnetic waves in the ionosphere.


Ariel 5 was one of the earliest X-ray astronomy satellites and involved a British-American collaboration. The Science Research Council managed the project for the United Kingdom and the Goddard Space Flight Center for the United States. Several catalogs of X-rays sources stemmed from its observations which continued until the spring of 1980.

spacecraft launch date launch vehicle launch site orbit mass (kg)
Ariel 1 Apr 26, 1962 Delta Cape Canaveral 398 × 1,203 km × 53.8° 60
Ariel 2 Mar 27, 1964 Scout X-3 Wallops Island 287 × 1,349 km × 51.7° 68
Ariel 3 May 5, 1967 Scout A Vandenberg 499 × 604 km × 80.6° 90
Ariel 4 Dec 11, 1971 Scout B Vandenberg 476 × 592 km × 82.0° 100
Ariel 5 Oct 15, 1974 Scout B San Marco 504 × 549 km × 2.9° 129
Ariel 6 Jun 2, 1979 Scout D Wallops Island 372 × 383 km × 55.0° 154